When the tone signals go off at Steadman Station alerting firefighters to an emergency call, men in blue scramble from everywhere:down the stairs, down the fire pole, out of the office, all jumping into heavy yellow turnout gear and boots.
Hearts pound and pulse rates quicken in anticipation and fear of the unknown.
It is shortly after 11:30 a.m. on a Monday when the tones blare out for Rescue 1, the city's only such unit. Luckily, the four men assigned to the unit have had lunch, because it's going to be a long afternoon.
William R. Hall Jr., 42, a Sykesville resident since 1983 and elected to the Town Council in May, is acting lieutenant this dayon Rescue 1. He's in the front passenger seat next to his driver, while two firefighters man the rear.
It's a long ride to the call --a gasoline leak with a possible explosive situation -- in the Fairfield section of South Baltimore.
Rescue 1 races from the downtown area, sirens blaring, lights flashing, staccato blasts from the horn ripping the air at intersections.
But at a one-lane intersection near an underpass in Brooklyn, a tanker truck refuses to let Rescue 1 through, despite Hall's constant pressure on the horn.
"That's frustrating," he said later. "You hope it's not a real call, and everybody's safe, but you don't know what you've got till you get there."
Hall and his men are relieved to discover that nothing serious has occurred when they finally arrive.
Other fire department units, state officials and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. personnel are searching for the gas leak. While they look, Rescue 1, "the elite" of the fire department -- as one firefighter put it -- is kept waiting two hours in the hot sun.
It's 2:20 p.m. before they're released back to Steadman Station. This is only the second call that Hall had this day,which started at 7 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m.
Not all calls are as non-productive as the one at Fairfield. After 19 years in the Baltimore City Fire Department, Hall has many stories to tell of burning buildings, assorted rescues and, inevitably, devastating human and material losses.
Always interested in writing, Hall finally decided about 2 1/2 years ago to write a book about his experiences as a firefighter, paramedic and rescue worker.
On July 15, his dream became a reality when 3,000 copies of "Turnout: A Firefighter's Story" arrivedat Greenberg Publishing Co. Inc. in Sykesville, distributed to independent local book stores and the Great Firehouse Exposition and Muster, which ends today at the Baltimore Convention Center.
"That's mybaby," Hall said with pride. "It was born at 9:30 a.m. Friday, July 12, when two advance copies came in the mail, and is 6 by 9 inches. Ieven weighed it. And it's a boy, too, that I never had."
Hall's wife, Carol, 38, doesn't mind the reference to a son. After 17 years of marriage to a Baltimore City firefighter, she has learned to take things in stride. And as much as she knows he loves his four blonde daughters -- Amy, 19; Emily, 15; Holly, 14; and Bethany, 8 -- she understands every man's desire for a son.
"To me (the book) is unbelieveable," Carol Hall said. "My first thought was 'another Don Quixote' -- it seemed so far-fetched and unrealistic. Bill's artistic and a dreamer, and I'm realistic, so it's like a miracle to be there."
After Hall decided to write the book, he began collecting stories from his own experiences and those of his fellow firefighters.
"I alwaysliked to write," he said. "I wrote ever since I was a little kid, sowhen I started the book, I started writing down things to remind me of stories."
Once the stories were gathered, Hall spent 10 months writing the book, mostly at the firehouse while on watch duty or night shifts. He also wrote some at home, but always with the fire scanner on so he could hear what was happening downtown.
"Carol called that my mood music," Hall said with a laugh.
The 208-page book describes all aspects of firefighting,because Hall has done every emergency-related job listed in the manuals. Technically,his title is Firefighter III, but for the last six years he has worked on Rescue 1, a 12-foot high, 17-ton truck that can handle major or minor emergencies.
For the past 18 years, Hall has been assigned to the city's largest and busiest fire station, dubbed Superhouse by sheer virtue of its size, on Lombard Street.
The firehouse is home to Engines 38 and 23, Aerial Tower Truck 102, Battalion Chief 5, Medic 1, Ambulance 21, Airflex 1 (an air tank replenishment unit) and Rescue 1, which includes the rescue truck, a scuba wagon and small boat and a heat wagon for high-rise rescues. Twenty-one firefighters and paramedics staff thestation around the clock.
Hall grew up in the Locust Point section of Baltimore. As a youngster,he always was fascinated by firefighters in action. But he didn't join the department until he was 23.
"I and a bunch of friends were walking down the street when we heard sirens behind us," he recalled. "We turned the corner and there was this house with fire blowing out the windows. Then the pumper pulled up, and the firemen got off, and it seemed like they were just running into the fire with just a hose.
"I decided then and there I was going to be a firefighter."
He took a civil service test, passed a physical exam and entered the city fire academy.
He began as a firefighter on Engine 23, but when the paramedic rage hit in the early 1970s, Hall took Emergency Medical Technician training and worked for 11 years as a paramedic,until he got burned out.
"One reason I wrote this is because you always see cops portrayed as superhuman,but firefighters are just the average Joe Blow on the street," Hall said. "Iwanted people to know what it's like being on a fire, so I tried to put them in my place, to make them see what we do because we love it,and we chose to do this."
The book also contains 14 pages of color photographs,some taken by Hall. The photos tell, in ways that wordscannot, what the firefighter is up against when he goes out the door.
Kalmbach Publishing Co. of Waukesha,Wis., owner of Greenberg's,printed 15,000 copies of "Turnout," 12,000 of which Kalmbach will be distributing nationally through major book store chains, said Pat Shipley, public relations manager for Greenberg's.
The book will be available locally at Little Professor Book Center in Carrolltowne Mall in Eldersburg,Locust Books at 15 E. Main St., Westminster,and the 140Village Book Store in 140 Village Center Shopping Center, Shipley said.
The paperback sells for $12.95.
"We have a lot of hope for the book," Shipley said.
So does the Baltimore City Fire Department. Capt. Pat Flynn, public relations officer, told Hall the book "looks good. I'll buy a copy."
Flynn said as far as he knows, "Turnout" is the first book of its kind written by and about Baltimore City firefighters.
At one of several radio talk shows he's done for the book, Hall said a commentator asked him who was going to play him in the movie.
While his wife's choice is Richard Chamberlain,("He played in 'The Towering Inferno,' " she noted), Hall isn't thinking thatfar ahead.
"I'd be happy if they just sold the 15,000 copies," hesaid.